In many modern establishments, the Mai Tai is a mish-mash of rum, treacly syrups and sweet fruit juices, and it delivers the bright punch of a drink you’d order at a beachside cabana. It’s equal parts fruity dessert and boozy tropical-vacation drink, and it’s delicious — but it’s not exactly authentic.
The Mai Tai made its debut in the 1940s as a showcase for the unique flavor of a specific aged rum. The original cocktail contained orgeat (almond syrup), orange curaçao, simple syrup, a hint of lime and a shot of 17-year-old Wray and Nephew Jamaican rum. This rum-forward version was so popular that a couple years after it appeared on cocktail menus, the world supply of 17-year-old Wray and Nephew Jamaican rum ran dry. Its substitute, a 15-year-old Wray and Nephew, dwindled out of existence a couple years after that.
For our version, we mixed orgeat syrup spiked with orange blossom water with two rich rums — Havana Club Añejo Blanco Rum and Appleton Estate Reserve Rum — to create a cocktail closer to the original. It’s simple and sophisticated, and you’d be just as likely to find it in a speakeasy as a tiki bar.
Of course, if you prefer your Mai Tai on the fruiter side, you can dress this one up to suit your taste. Garnish it with pineapple wedges, a splash of grenadine and a paper umbrella, and you’ll be transported to the tropical beach of your choice.
Cook time: 10 minutes
Preparation time: 5 minutes
(Note: Orgeat syrup needs to rest for 3 to 8 hours)
For the orgeat syrup:
2 cups sliced almonds
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 ounce brandy
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
For the Mai Tai:
1 ounce Havana Club Añejo Blanco Rum
1 ounce Appleton Estate Reserve Rum
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
½ ounce Grand Marnier
¾ ounce orgeat syrup
1 large mint sprig, for garnish
1 lime wheel, for garnish
1 maraschino cherry, for garnish
- To make the orgeat syrup: heat oven to 350 F.
- Spread the almonds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, tossing halfway through, until light golden brown.
- Immediately transfer the almonds to a food processor and whirl for 10 seconds, or until coarsely ground.
- In a small pot, heat the sugar and water over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture simmers. Stir in the ground almonds and return to a simmer. Remove from heat and cover. Let sit at room temperature for 3 hours or up to 8.
- Strain the syrup through a double layer of cheesecloth into a pint jar. Stir in the brandy and orange blossom water. Chill until ready to use. Note: the syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- To make the Mai Tai: Fill a shaker halfway with ice cubes. Add the rums, lime juice, Grand Marnier, orgeat syrup and a dash of bitters. Shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosty.
- Fill a rocks glass with crushed ice and strain the Mai Tai over it. Garnish with a mint sprig, lime wheel and cherry. Enjoy!